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Amendment Of The MTP Act: Need Of The Hour

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In the early 1960s, India realised the necessity for a law regarding abortion. Until then, abortions were considered illegal under Section 312 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860.

Almost 50 years ago, in the year 1971, the country finally watched as the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act took form. The laws allow women to seek abortion as a part of their reproductive right and hence take a step towards gender justice. It also acts as an aid in the prevention of sex-selective abortions.

The legalisation of medical termination of pregnancy aims to reduce illegal abortions and resultant maternal mortality. Abortion was legalised. Nonetheless, numerous restrictions were applied to the same. One could perform the termination of pregnancy only up to a period of 20 weeks of gestation.

This could not be carried out as a choice, but in certain cases of mental or physical harm to the mother, abnormalities or RH disease to the foetus, exposure to radiation, and sexual assault or rape. Any person responsible for inducing a miscarriage was upheld for imprisonment up to 3 years and/or fine.

In case of quickening, however, that is, when a child’s motion is felt by the mother (gestation of 5 months or above) penalty extends to up to 7 years imprisonment and/or fine. Moreover, conducting abortion post-sex-determination can lead to a punishment of 3 to 7 years in jail.

Need Of The Hour

Case 1: A doctor denied an abortion when a minor was found to be 19 weeks pregnant as a result of rape. Till the case was taken to court, the 20-weeks marked surpassed, and she was forced to give birth to the rapist’s child.

Case 2: A couple caring for a child with special needs was determined with a foetus having Down Syndrome. The court, however, denied their request of termination due to exceeding 20 weeks of gestation period.

Case 3: A foetus was determined with heart defects at 26 weeks but was declined termination in spite of the couple’s plea in court.

Case 4: A 10-year-old girl was forced to carry a child-of-rape.

Abortion Assessment Project conducted a 4-year study, revealing a total of only 56% of the total abortions to be safe. In 2015, research published by the Indian Journal of Medical Ethics inferred 6 to 7 deaths of women undergoing unsafe abortions daily.

A study by Guttmacher Institute reveals half the pregnancies in 6 large states of India to be unintentional, suggesting high rates of termination. In 2017, The Lancet, the world’s leading medical journal, reported that 1 in 3 of the 48.1 million pregnancies end up in abortion, with almost 78% of them being practised without professional medical consultations.

Innovations in medical science allow safe abortions to be carried out even beyond the limit of 20 weeks. Practices involving the consumption of the abortion pill and using vacuum aspiration have proved to be of no harm to mothers.

Source: Dribble

MTP Amendment, 2020

The beginning of 2020 was endowed with a progressive unfolding of the already existing abortion law. The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare opted to amend the MTP Act by providing several versatile choices for women.

It clearly states the definition of “termination of pregnancy” as a procedure to terminate a pregnancy using medical or surgical methods. The amendment focuses on raising the gestational limit of termination of pregnancy from 20 weeks to 24 weeks in vulnerable situations such as rape survivors, victims of incest, disabled women and minors.

The opinion of 1 medical practitioner is mandatory in abortions before 20 weeks of gestation, but in the case of 20 to 24 weeks, 2 doctors must approve the procedure. It is also stated that discretion must be maintained, and no information of the woman must be revealed by practitioners.

Any woman, who encounters failure of contraceptives, be it married or unmarried, is also eligible for seeking medical aid. If foetal abnormalities are discovered, termination can be carried out at any time during the pregnancy, regardless of gestational time. This contemplates the detrimental effects of unsafe abortions on the death of mothers. The penalty for causing miscarriages remains unaltered.

Reflections: Silver Linings & Criticism

The law is forward-looking and empathetic, as it takes into account multiple sensitive issues. India stands amongst selective nations dictating a progressive law regarding abortions.

It considers abortions not just on therapeutic but on humanitarian, eugenic, as well as social grounds. Acting as a milestone, it helps to empower vulnerable and sexual assault survivors. The extension of gestation will provide dignity and justice for those who choose to terminate their pregnancy.

Being liberal and accommodative, it provides autonomy and confidentiality to women. It ensures the empowerment of women as no consent of parents or spouse is required if the mother chooses to terminate. Moreover, it promotes clarity to medical practitioners who have resisted performing such procedures in the past.

On the other hand, the amendment grants a substantial amount of power to medical practitioners instead of ensuring women a right to exercise their choice. Although termination is permitted until the gestation age of 24 weeks, it can only be fulfilled based on the practitioner’s opinion. It, therefore, becomes necessary for a woman to justify her choice.

There still exists a stigma around the idea of medical termination of pregnancy. More than 80 Indian women (from 7 states) were found to be unaware of the abortion laws. Myths such as abortion bringing dishonour, disallowance of first pregnancy, abortion-causing permanent infertility, and husband’s approval for termination still prevail. The problems of inaccessibility and unawareness need to be tackled by the country, as the government legalises abortion.

“Abortion is part of being a mother and of caring for children because part of caring for children is knowing when it’s not a good idea to bring them into the world.” – Katha Pollitt

Written by: Avni Gupta
Read more: E-Newsletter – Pratisandhi

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

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A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
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